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Post Georgia 49 – UAB 21: Towards an identity

Tuesday September 26, 2023

Before the season, I don’t think anyone would have considered these characterizations of Georgia’s offense much of a reach:

  • The departure of Darnell Washington would necessarily change how Georgia uses its tight ends in receiving as well as blocking and protection.
  • The lack of a sure-fire NFL tailback for the first time in years would alter the running game. Georgia – this is Georgia after all – would still run the ball, but explosive plays might have to come from elsewhere.
  • A deeper group of receivers featuring two impact SEC transfers might tilt the balance of production from tight ends and tailbacks to the receivers.
  • Carson Beck, while not an unathletic stationary target, doesn’t have the mobility of Stetson Bennett.
  • Brock Bowers is just different.

The journey of the first four games has been about developing an offensive identity around those observations. Injuries to Ladd McConkey, several tailbacks, and Amarius Mims have complicated things and, if anything, has placed greater urgency about getting explosiveness and production from the passing game. We started to see this identity take root against UAB. From the beginning there was a larger percentage of play-action passes with open receivers at the intermediate level. Georgia ran the ball for a respectable 5.2 yards per carry, and Edwards had some important runs to sustain and finish drives, but seven passes to one rush on the opening drive set the tone for a game in which the pass set up the run. It’s likely also no accident that the first three targets in the game were Lovett, Thomas, and Bowers. Along with Rosemy-Jacksaint, these are all proven veteran SEC receivers. That kind of experience on top of a group that includes Arian Smith and eventually Ladd McConkey (not to mention Bell, Mews, and the emerging C.J. Smith) shows the depth and breadth of the passing game that seems to be what this offense does best.

As the offense discovers its identity, Carson Beck looks more and more in control of his position. He showed better patience to let the play-action routes develop. He identified pressure and coverages. Was it a perfect game? Of course not. Beck nearly threw a pick-six when UAB correctly anticipated another receiver screen. There’s a run option with many of these passing plays, and Beck could choose that option more often. There were some missed connections on deeper shots. Beck was affected by pressure and threw behind the receiver on Georgia’s fourth down attempt. Blocking is better but still inconsistent both from the line and downfield. These are all areas that can be worked on. The bigger picture is that Georgia has the pieces to run this style of offense, and they’re beginning to execute with more consistency and explosiveness.

Not much needs to be said about Georgia’s defensive identity. This is a Kirby Smart team, and we know what he expects from his defense. Here we have to talk in relative terms. The defense might not be leading the nation in stop rate, but they’re top 10. There’s no Jalen Carter or Jordan Davis wreaking havoc in the interior, but opponents are still not getting much of a running game going. We’re talking about differences at the margins, but that’s what defines elite units. Red zone defense has been less successful. They’re getting stops, but there have been few three-and-outs, especially in the first half. Being unable to get the ball back quickly has been a big part of Georgia’s slow starts and fewer first half possessions. These are the areas where we’ll notice incremental improvements, and they’ll have a beneficial effect on field position and possessions for the offense.

So if you buy into the “September as Georgia’s preseason” view of the schedule, this is the time to take stock. There’s a defense that, while still extremely solid from front to back, has had some slippage and hasn’t been quite as dominant. That’s no surprise given the draft results over the past two years, but as we approach October you’d expect to see players become more comfortable in their roles. There’s an offense that’s gaining confidence in its passing game, but injuries and talent leave questions at tailback and along the offensive line. Placekicking remains unsettled, and we saw how it affected decision-making as Georgia approached the red zone. In other words, Georgia isn’t emerging from the chrysalis of September in its final form as a contender to defend its title. That’s not unexpected, but the continued improvement must now take place on the road and against more difficult SEC opponents. The transformation is underway, though, and we’re beginning to see how good it can get. Integrating injured players back into their units can be tricky, but players like McConkey and Bullard are key to the team reaching its potential as the year goes on.

  • Kirby Smart was clear that Georgia avoided leaning on Brock Bowers earlier in the season as it developed other receivers. This game was a good reminder that Bowers is every bit the weapon in Bobo’s offense with Carson Beck delivering the ball. His first touchdown catch was one of his longer receptions of the season and featured great body control to turn for the catch and then avoid multiple defenders to score. Bowers’ second touchdown was a beautiful play design with all of the motion going right and Bowers releasing wide open back to the left.
  • By now we’ve all seen breakdowns of “the play.” UAB several times released a tight end or tailback out of the backfield, and Georgia’s linebackers were inconsistent in picking it up. It’s the play on which they scored their first touchdown. It’s difficult to defend for the linebackers because there’s an option element that must be respected. Many teams on Georgia’s schedule will use a similar look. Georgia used it themselves to get the ball to Brock Bowers. It’s a particularly devastating play for LSU with the talented Mason Taylor at tight end and Jayden Daniels a threat to keep the ball. It wasn’t an explosive play for UAB, but its benefit is to get that short-to-intermediate gain that keeps the offense ahead of schedule or, in the red zone, gets into the endzone. We’ll continue to see it, and the coaches have lots of film now – good and bad – to teach it. Pass coverage by Georgia’s linebackers will be a pressure point against better offenses, and Georgia has depth and options at the position. C.J. Allen will be tough to keep off the field.
  • Warren Brinson is quickly making a name for himself as a disruptive player on the interior defensive line. It’s not an every down thing yet, but it’s moved well beyond “showing flashes.” Marvin Jones, Jr. is also starting to see more time on the edge.
  • Worth noting that Dan Jackson played most of the game alongside Starks. The secondary is still missing Bullard, but it’s clear that the coaches aren’t going to accept just anything from the next man up.
  • The most disappointing defensive moment was the scoring drive before halftime. In consecutive games Georgia has allowed a score by the opponent’s four-minute offense.
  • One big step forward for the offense was in red zone production. The Dawgs were stopped on 4th down just outside of the 20, but the offense was 6-for-6 getting into the endzone once they crossed the 20. Tough running by Edwards helped to finish off drives (should anyone else get carries inside the 5?)

Post Elegy For a Weird Pseudorivalry

Wednesday September 20, 2023

They’ve got more rivals than almost anybody I know. They really do. Traditionally, we’ve only had Clemson because we haven’t beaten anybody enough to have any more rivals. Georgia, I’ve always said, is our biggest conference rival since they’re closest to us, I think, than any other school.
— Steve Spurrier

Saturday’s comeback win over South Carolina added to Georgia’s lopsided 55–19–2 advantage in the series. Since taking charge of the Georgia program, Kirby Smart’s Bulldogs are 7-1 against South Carolina with an average margin of victory of nearly 25 points. Shane Beamer’s program showed signs of life with two huge upsets in 2022, and the Gamecocks were competitive as huge underdogs in Athens this year. Unfortunately we won’t know for a while if Beamer will be able to bring competitive balance back to the series. With the eight-game SEC schedule stretched thin by the addition of Oklahoma and Texas, Georgia and South Carolina will no longer play every season. Each team will rotate on and off the other’s schedule as if they were Mississippi State or Kentucky.

Is it the end – or a pausing – of a rivalry?

Defining what makes a rivalry is a popular offseason parlor game. But for a year here and there Georgia and South Carolina have played regularly since the 1960s. Of course it’s become an annual meeting since the Gamecocks joined the SEC East in 1992, but the teams met 27 out of 30 years between 1960 and 1989. Georgia and Tennessee met only eight times during that span. The frequent games and the short distance between the schools might seem to make the Bulldogs and Gamecocks natural rivals. For those in the Augusta area, the Border Bash is an annual show of pride between the two local fan bases. As Steve Spurrier noted, though, there’s a pretty wide gulf between how fans of each school see this series. It’s not a question of disrespect. Georgia’s games with Auburn, Florida, and even Tennessee often had SEC implications. Georgia Tech was the in-state rival. By the time South Carolina traded independent status for SEC membership, Georgia’s list of rivals was extensive.

Even before the Gamecocks joined the SEC the series with Georgia had some twists and turns. Georgia forced a fumble from eventual Heisman winner George Rogers to hold on in 1980. The Gamecocks upset then-#12 Georgia in 1984 and went on to become the first team in school history to win 10 games. In 1986 Georgia’s James Jackson set the ball on the turf during a live play as the clock expired, and Georgia escaped with the win only because the rules at the time forbid advancing a recovered fumble.

There were some memorable games as the Gamecocks joined the SEC in the 90s. A Georgia loss in 1993 was a harbinger of a disappointing season, and the brash Steve Taneyhill became an instant villain in Athens. Georgia’s win in 1995 introduced Robert Edwards as the next great Georgia tailback. Still, Georgia won 6 of the 8 contests in the 1990s, and any rivalry just simmered as sights were set on more successful programs at Tennessee ad Florida.

The 1999 arrival of Lou Holtz in Columbia seemed like a novelty, but it ushered in an era of competitive, low-scoring, and dramatic games between the programs. Georgia won easily enough in 1999 and sent the Gamecocks on their way to an 0-11 season. The Gamecocks turned the tables in 2000. They intercepted Georgia five times en route to an upset of the #10 Bulldogs. The performance and loss shook the Georgia program to the core and started the ball rolling towards a coaching change at the end of the season. The Mark Richt era began with South Carolina’s first win in Athens since 1993, but the Dawgs then reeled off five straight wins – their longest winning streak in the series since the 1970s.

Those five wins didn’t come easily for Georgia. The 2002 win is remembered for the interception that immortalized David Pollack as a Georgia legend, but the Dawgs also needed a frenzied stop inside their own 10 to secure the win. 2004 was an even wilder game. The Gamecocks stormed out to a 16-0 lead, but David Greene threw two second half touchdown passes to put Georgia on top. The Dawgs had to stop South Carolina twice inside the red zone in the fourth quarter.

Holtz stepped aside after 2004, and the hiring of Steve Spurrier for 2005 took the series to another level of animosity. Georgia eked out a two-point win in 2005 with a fourth-quarter stop of a two-point conversion. The Dawgs handed Spurrier a rare shutout loss in 2006. The Evil Genius finally broke through against his foe with a 16-12 win in 2007. Georgia could only manage four field goals in the loss, and it ended up costing them the SEC East title and possibly a shot at the national title in the bizarre 2007 season.

As Spurrier took root in Columbia, the low-scoring grinds of the early 2000s began to give way to high-scoring shootouts. Between 2009 and 2015, the winning team in the series scored fewer than 35 points only once. It also became a golden age for Gamecock football. South Carolina had a 5-3 advantage over Georgia between 2007 and 2014 (including three straight from 2010-2012), and they won their lone SEC East title in 2010. The teams traded shootout wins in 2009 and 2011.

By 2012 both programs were rolling and undefeated for an early October clash. Williams-Brice Stadium was out of its mind for a night game between the #6 Gamecocks and #5 Bulldogs. South Carolina fed off the home crowd and roared to a 21-0 first quarter lead. The 35-7 rout was their largest margin of victory in the series. Georgia ended the Gamecock winning streak in 2013 with another high-scoring back-and-forth game in Athens. A deep pass to Justin Scott-Wesley provided the final margin, but it wasn’t over until the Bulldog defense got a stop on 4th-and-1 at the goal line. The Gamecocks returned the favor in 2014 with a red zone stop and an upset of #6 Georgia. A late interception returned to the South Carolina 3 set Georgia up to win the game, but a disastrous offensive series and missed field goal allowed South Carolina to hold on to the winning margin. Once again the loss cost Georgia a shot at the SEC East title.

Georgia’s lopsided 52-20 win in 2015 was one of the most enjoyable in the series for Bulldog fans. Greyson Lambert completed 24-of-25 passes in a career game that came out of nowhere. Georgia’s win wasn’t an upset, but the Gamecocks weren’t able to recover from the loss. They dropped two of their next three, and Steve Spurrier resigned in midseason. South Carolina dropped 7 of their last 8 to finish the Spurrier era with a 3-9 season.

Both programs entered 2016 with former Georgia defensive backs as head coach. Will Muschamp took over in Columbia, and Kirby Smart was tapped to lead the Bulldogs. Their first meeting in 2016 was rescheduled to a rare Sunday afternoon game due to a hurricane, and Georgia took advantage of a subdued crowd to win in Columbia for the first time since 2008. The lone South Carolina win came in 2019. The Gamecocks, 24.5-point underdogs, shocked #3 Georgia in overtime. The Bulldogs recovered to run the table in the regular season, but the loss was enough to remove Georgia from playoff consideration in 2019. South Carolina was unable to build on the win and notched just one more win in 2019. After a 2-8 season in 2020, Muschamp was dismissed and Beamer has been at the helm since 2021.

As the Dawgs took a knee Saturday, there wasn’t much sense or fanfare that whatever the Georgia-South Carolina series is will be different now. Kirby Smart definitely isn’t going to give two seconds thinking about anything but getting better for the next game. Not many Georgia fans will pine for the biennial trips to the furnace of Columbia to have Sandstorm blasted at them. Other games have and will almost always rate more important among Georgia fans. It’s always seemed a bit one-sided: Georgia has never won anything because it beat South Carolina, but more than a few times a loss to the Gamecocks came back to bite Georgia at the end of the year. But whatever it was, the Georgia-South Carolina game was often the kind of early season weirdness that gave the SEC some spice. I can’t say I’ll miss or even think about an annual game with South Carolina, but I might miss the conference it helped to shape.

Post Georgia 24 – South Carolina 14: Another disaster averted

Tuesday September 19, 2023

“Complimentary football” is one of those terms that can border on the trite and obvious – what team isn’t trying to excel in all three phases of the game? These terms become axiomatic though because you can see them play out time after time during games.

Georgia experienced both sides of the complimentary football coin against South Carolina. Out of the gate a special teams mistake gave South Carolina favorable field position. The Gamecocks drove down the field against a defense that wasn’t getting much pressure and made errors in both tackling and coverage. The offense was able to drive into the red zone, but an incomplete pass and ineffective run led to a 3rd-and-long play that couldn’t be converted.

A similar letdown by all three phases happened again at the end of the half. Another long drive fizzled in the red zone with a lost yardage play and a penalty. Georgia missed a short field goal attempt. The defense was unable to get a stop and gave up 50 yards on two plays with a facemask penalty and a long completion. Instead of converting a goal-to-go situation to take the lead going into halftime, Georgia found itself trailing 14-3 and in its most precarious regular season situation since last year’s Missouri game.

Complimentary football was key to getting back into the game. The offense got it going with an efficient drive that was cleanly converted into a touchdown. Special teams came up big with a tackle by – who else – Mekhi Mews that pinned South Carolina deep. The defense came up big and forced its first three-and-out of the game. Mews fielded the punt and midfield, and the offense soon cashed in on the short field with another clean trip through the red zone. With all three phases contributing, Georgia was back in the lead and avoided the biggest upset at Sanford Stadium since, well, South Carolina’s visit four years ago.

It wasn’t exactly smooth sailing the rest of the way as the outburst early in the third quarter cooled off. The defense managed to keep the Gamecocks off the scoreboard in the second half. Two late interceptions helped to seal the win. The offense did add another touchdown but still left points on the field with another red zone penalty. A second missed field goal meant another empty long drive and left the door open for the Gamecocks to make the ending very uncomfortable.

The way the first half unfolded isn’t ideal, but it did test the team’s composure and resilience. They didn’t panic or overreact. They handled poor weather well and didn’t turn the ball over. The 2019 loss was on our minds, but the big difference this year was the turnover margin. A -4 margin in 2019 was asking for the upset, and fortunately this game didn’t go down that path. This didn’t turn out to be the “perfect storm” of an opponent playing out of its mind while Georgia poured gasoline on the fire. Georgia avoided the disaster that ultimately kept them out of the playoff in 2019. Avoided – for now. There will be tougher SEC challenges, and several will be away from the Sanford Stadium crowd that played a role in Georgia’s comeback. The coming weeks will show whether Georgia can build on the identity they developed in the second half of this game or if games like this are the reality Georgia will have to overcome time and again this season.

Slow starts

Mike Bobo, Carson Beck, and the offense are taking the brunt of the heat for Georgia’s slow starts. Of course there’s more to it than that.

  • Explosiveness. Carson Beck began Saturday’s game 13-18 for 98 yards. Hovering around 5 yards per attempt isn’t optimal, and Georgia’s longest pass play in the first half went for 11 yards. We saw in the second half that the offense is capable of explosive plays: Beck can make the throws, there’s no shortage of receivers, and those plays can open things up for the running game. The challenge seems to be unlocking those explosive plays earlier in the game, and Beck needs the confidence to execute them.
  • A bendable defense. We’re talking about a defense giving up 8 points per game, but remember – complimentary football goes both ways. Ball State opened the game with an 11-play drive that chewed up nearly six minutes of clock. South Carolina’s opening drive went for 10 plays and used five minutes. Whether or not these drives end with points a secondary effect is to keep the ball away from Georgia’s offense. Combine the unexplosive offense and a defense unable to get off the field, and at best you have a lot of plays not accomplishing anything for either team. While the offense was more explosive in the second half, the defense did its part by getting off the field and giving possession back to the offense. The Gamecocks converted four third downs in the first half and only one in the second half.
  • Red zone and third down inefficiency. If your offensive drives are limited and use up a lot of clock, there are added premiums for moving the chains and converting scoring opportunities. Georgia was only 5-13 on third down in the game and didn’t convert a single third down in the red zone. The offense, to its credit, created scoring opportunities on 6 of its first 8 possessions. It’s unrealistic to expect 100% conversion, but those six opportunities all reached at least the SC 16; they weren’t marginal scoring chances. But when those scoring opportunities met third down, they hit a wall.

Players matter

Georgia’s running game to date has been a combination of players nursing injuries, recovering from injuries, and playing college football for the first time. Run blocking hasn’t been great. We’ve seen teams attempt to take away the running game and challenge Beck. So much of the rationalization, valid or not, evaporated as Daijun Edwards returned to the lineup. Georgia leaned on Edwards as Milton and Robinson were injured during the game, but he handled the load and posted well over 100 yards. He even seemed to make the other backs better. Milton had a fantastic 15-yard burst after Thomas’s big catch to set up Georgia’s first score. Cash Jones was patient, found his hole, and darted outside for Georgia’s final touchdown.

Javon Bullard was missed by the defense. David Daniel-Sisavanh struggled both in coverage and tackling. Jackson made a nice play to come across the field for his interception, but there’s still a drop-off in tackling. Spencer Rattler is going to test any defense when given enough time, and Georgia’s pass defense was strained in the first half. They adjusted by turning up the pressure which led to hurried and less-accurate passes and two late turnovers. Tykee Smith has been fantastic at star, and Starks remains one of the best in the nation. Lassiter played well – his defense of a third down pass without drawing a penalty was key to forcing the three-and-out that led to Georgia’s second touchdown.

Extra Points

  • Georgia’s best third down strategy was not to get to third down at all. On their three touchdown drives Georgia faced third down ONCE. That single third down was an important play though – Rara Thomas caught a slant that didn’t move the chains but set up a short 4th down sneak by Beck. Without that completion Georgia would have faced 4th and 7 from the SC 34 and might have wasted great field position and a crowd that was back in the game.
  • The 2019 South Carolina game – the last home loss for Georgia – probably came to mind as the home winning streak looked to be in jeopardy. The 2019 Notre Dame game might be a more apt reference point than the 2019 South Carolina loss. Against Notre Dame Jake Fromm started the game 11-12 in the first half…for 59 yards. Carson Beck began Saturday’s game 13-18 for 98 yards. Hovering around 5 yards per attempt isn’t optimal, and Georgia’s longest pass play in the first half went for 11 yards. In 2019 the issues were more schematic, but there were personnel issues also. The Dawgs had an experienced quarterback in Fromm but a very inexperienced and lightly-regarded group of receivers and tight ends. That script is flipped in 2023: there’s a ton of talent available to catch the ball, but Carson Beck is developing as we go. While Georgia didn’t quite break out of its shell on offense in 2019, there’s more hope in 2023. We know that the offensive scheme is sound, the playmakers are there on the receiving end, and Beck has the physical tools to make the throws.
  • The use of tempo was a nice wrinkle during Georgia’s second half rally. It added to the frenzy of the comeback and allowed Georgia to keep the momentum rolling without the Gamecocks having a chance to adjust. By the time Dillon Bell gave Georgia the lead, the South Carolina defense was in disarray and got caught shuffling players on and off the field.
  • The injury to Mims is concerning – depth isn’t great along the line to begin with, and the right side of the line with Ratledge and Mims had looked to be the strength of a fledgling running game. Xavier Truss was moved to right tackle and looked more comfortable there than he has at guard. Dylan Fairchild, who even last week alternated with Truss, stepped in at left guard. This was the line combination as Georgia’s offense – and especially its running game – came to life in the second half. It’s a positive that Truss has the versatility and experience to move across the line from guard to tackle. This combination might work, but the absence of Mims (and Blaske) leaves the line razor-thin at tackle. There’s also an interesting question raised about Mims’ eventual return in 4-6 weeks. With freshman Earnest Greene having ups and downs as he develops, who will be Georgia’s five best linemen?
  • Transfers Rara Thomas and Dominic Lovett are already proving to be important go-to targets in the passing game. Georgia’s first score was set up with a pair of short outside passes to Lovett followed by a deep shot to Thomas. Thomas was targeted on another deep pass that was broken up by a nice defensive play.
  • Georgia’s last pass attempt came with over 7:30 left in the game – a safe five-yard pass to Bowers. The Bulldogs weren’t quite able to put the game away on the ground – they punted twice and South Carolina had two more possessions late in the game. It might have been a bit early to begin taking a virtual knee. South Carolina drove inside Georgia territory, and a holding penalty negated a gain that would have set the Gamecocks up to make the game very uncomfortable with over five minutes remaining.
  • Georgia wasn’t getting much done with its base pass rush in the first half. Increasingly Georgia brought five or six at Rattler. Georgia attacked on the Gamecocks’ initial second half possession and Mykel Williams came away with the sack. Dumas-Johnson was a force up the middle and had two tackles for loss. Brinson and Stackhouse got a push from the interior. This more aggressive defense was certainly effective, but there’s always a risk with the reward. It cost them on South Carolina’s first score as a screen pass neutralized the pressure and cleared a path to the endzone, and Rattler was able to escape for a few big gains on the ground. There’s no doubt though that increased pressure was the right answer to counter a quarterback who had a near-perfect first half, and it made the difference in the second half.
  • South Carolina’s second touchdown drive at the end of the first half caught most of us off-guard. The touchdown itself wasn’t a great look for the defense. The Dawgs got no penetration on a wildcat keeper, and the pile was pushed 3 or 4 yards into the endzone.
  • It was a quiet game for Mews after his emergence in the first two games. His kickoff coverage set the stage to flip field position to start the second half. As a returner it was enough in the wet conditions to field kicks cleanly and, in some cases, avoid the ball entirely.
  • The kicking game will depend on Woodring’s development. Maybe the wet field had something to do with it, but all three attempts were within range. The UAB game might be a chance to look at Zirkel as a placekicker, but there’s a reason why the coaches went with Woodring out of the gate. Until there’s more confidence in placekicking, it has to affect playcalling and decision-making as the offense crosses midfield. Playing for the field goal isn’t necessarily the safe option it has been.

Post Georgia 45 – Ball State 3: The little spark

Wednesday September 13, 2023

“From a little spark may burst a flame.”
– Dante

Georgia’s slow starts were a theme of the first two games, and it’s been diminutive walk-on receiver Mekhi Mews who got things going. Against UT-Martin his 54-yard romp on a screen pass opened up a closer-than-expected game. In Saturday’s win over Ball State Mews showcased his special teams skills by returning the opening kickoff to midfield and then returning a punt for Georgia’s first score of the game. That punt return sparked a 31-point second quarter that quickly turned a nervous 0-0 contest after one quarter into an enjoyable rout by halftime.

Mews’ opening kickoff return immediately ushered in one big change from the UT-Martin game: the return of complimentary football. The Dawgs handled UT-Martin but had to grind it out on each drive. With only a late turnover and a stellar effort from the opponent’s punter, Georgia never had starting field position better than its own 32. Mews’ 47-yard return set Georgia up at their own 48 right out of the gate. Georgia came up empty but drove into the red zone. Mews would later have another long punt return early in the second half that again gave Georgia the ball just short of midfield.

The defense joined in after Mews’ punt return touchdown. Malaki Starks got it going with a leap to intercept a floating deep pass. It might not have been the same degree of difficulty as his Oregon interception last season, but this one was more contested. Two passes to Arian Smith quickly moved the ball into the red zone, and a difficult pass under pressure to Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint finished the scoring drive. Two more interceptions followed: one a fluky deflection that bounced off a receiver’s foot and the other a tipped ball off a deflected pass. Yes, there was a lot of luck involved as there often is with turnovers, but the interceptions required Chaz Chambliss and Tykee Smith to be in a position to make the play and have the awareness to recognize the opportunity for a turnover.

When special teams, defense, and offense all contribute, you end up with a 31-point quarter. Georgia took a step forward in all three phases in this game.

What do you do well?

When asked about the running game, Smart raised the point that Georgia’s screens, quick perimeter passes, and RPO pass plays should be considered extensions of the running game. He’s not making that concept up: such pass plays are a common element of modern football offenses, especially at the professional level. They’re even effective in setting up play-action on more typical passing plays. Smart, recognizing the need to modernize his offense, handed the keys in 2020 to someone fluent in this world. Such plays have been staples of the Georgia offense since, but there’s still some basics:

  • The plays still have to be executed. Georgia’s perimeter blocking has been tough to watch at times. When those plays are blocked well they can lead to explosive plays (see Mews’ touchdown in the opener.) When they’re not blocked well, they go for a minimal gain or a loss and get the offense behind schedule. Georgia is under 50% on third down for the season due in part to small gains on running plays and their extensions on early downs.
  • These plays become less effective as the field constricts. You still need to be able to run the ball in close yardage situations, and Smart admits that “right now we’re better at (the running game extensions) than we are the interior run game.” Georgia had the ball inside the 10 on four first half possessions. Only one of those possessions ended with a rushing touchdown. There’s no Jalen Carter or Jordan Davis out there this year – Georgia’s line has to move someone.

Smart continues, “You’ve got to be good at something. And right now we’re better at that than we are the interior run game.” Relatively speaking, that might be true. Georgia has produced a handful of explosive plays from the short passes – certainly more of them than explosive running plays. I wouldn’t call it a strength yet though, and it’s no substitute for a more well-rounded running game.

Defensive growth

If there was a shortcoming in a dominant defensive showing against UT-Martin, it was a tendency for the edge to break down and allow several moderate gains on outside runs. UT-M ended up with 134 yards rushing and 4.6 yards per carry. Georgia’s front played the edge much better in this game. Ball State finished with 77 yards rushing and just 2.8 yards per carry. They were prepared for the multiple quarterbacks Ball State used. Tailback Marquez Cooper, who had moderate success against Georgia at Kent State last season, was held to 8 yards on 12 carries.

Ball State was a tougher test for Georgia’s pass defense than UT-Martin. The Cardinals found some early success with short passes underneath the Georgia secondary that worked just well enough to move the chains. Their first drive lasted 11 plays (including five completions with none longer than 12 yards) and took nearly 6 minutes off the clock. Nearly ten minutes elapsed between the two teams’ empty first possessions; this long Ball State drive had as much to do with the “slow start” as anything the Georgia offense did or didn’t do. Georgia’s defense quickly adjusted to those successful short passes, and then the turnovers came.

Daylen Everette was a frequent target and acquitted himself well – certainly some things for the young cornerback to work on but also no big plays allowed downfield. Everette also forced the tipped pass that led to Georgia’s third interception. Georgia’s secondary was dealt a blow with the early ankle injury to Bullard. David Daniel-Sisavanh, Tykee Smith, and Dan Jackson saw increased playing time as a result and generally fared well. Ball State had just two inconsequential completions longer than 20 yards in the second half. Smith in particular has been a physical presence early this year against both run and pass plays – exactly what we hoped we were getting at the star position. It helps when a presence like Starks is also in the defensive backfield.

Extra Points

  • Besides Mews the development that got Sanford Stadium buzzing was a handful of plays with Dillon Bell at tailback. We’ve known that’s a possibility since the preseason, and in this game we saw why. Bell has size, speed, and certainly the moves to make an impact. His touchdown run had several things worth pointing out: Mims caving in the right side of the line, Bell recognizing the opportunity to cut back against the play, the ankle-breaking move to make the first defender miss, and then the burst once he got into open space to reach the endzone. It was a combination we haven’t seen yet from Georgia’s other banged-up or inexperienced backs.
  • Beck sure looked like someone who thought he had a free play on the pass that led to his interception. I saw the pre-snap movement on the line from my seat, and Matt Stinchcomb commented on it during the broadcast. That’s the risk of assuming that a flag is coming when you see a defender jump.
  • That Beck interception was the one sudden change that Georgia’s defense faced in the game, and they responded well by driving Ball State backwards before they could convert the good field position into a scoring opportunity.
  • The interception was one of the few low points in the game for Beck. He rushed some decisions early and fumbled on Georgia’s opening drive, but he soon settled in to have an efficient and productive game. His patience and adjustment on Rosemy-Jacksaint’s touchdown is the kind of growth you want to see from a new quarterback.
  • Kendall Milton is gutting it out through his lingering hamstring issues, and that’s admirable given Georgia’s search for depth and production at tailback. His dive into the endzone was daring, athletic, but also a bit concerning. On a short-yardage handoff at the goal line Milton hesitated as he looked for a passage. He took off on his dive almost two yards from the goal line from a near standstill. He was fortunate to get over the pile and score, but often it’s just better to hit the line with a full head of steam and get the yard. Milton was also the ballcarrier on a stuffed 4th down goal line run at Kentucky last year.
  • Nice play design on Arian Smith’s long crossing route that set up Georgia’s second score. Dillon Bell cut off a route underneath which drew the attention of the cornerback on his side just long enough to clear space for Smith behind him. Smith just had to beat the safety as he crossed the field.
  • Mims also had an impressive block on Robinson’s late touchdown run. The right side of the line seems to be the place to run. Robinson showed a nice burst once he saw a clear path – no hesitation.
  • The training of young Earnest Greene continues. There aren’t many other options at left tackle especially with Austin Blaske dinged up. Georgia does have some more options at guard if Truss remains inconsistent. Dylan Fairchild got in there in the first half and might push for more time.
  • Christen Miller unfortunately had to come out with an injury, but he’s earning more time along the defensive front with his ability to disrupt. Later in the game Gabe Harris was a force blowing up a 4th-and-1 run for a loss.
  • Cash Jones wheel route TD? Cash Jones wheel route TD. Fantastic placement by Beck.

Post Georgia 48 – UT-Martin 7: A different kind of opener

Wednesday September 6, 2023

It’s been a while since Georgia opened a season at home against a team outside the P5. In 2019 and 2020 Georgia opened on the road against SEC opponents. In 2021 and 2022 they faced ranked P5 schools at neutral sites with all of the fanfare that comes with a spotlight national broadcast. It’s been since 2018 when Georgia dispatched Austin Peay that Georgia began the year without so much as a conference win at stake.

Does that fact affect how the players, fans, or even coaches approached the game? We’ve been used to a team that had to be locked in and at reasonably full strength right out of the gate. For months Georgia’s September slate (with a cursory acknowledgement of South Carolina) has had all of the build-up of an NFL preseason. The schedule’s our friend, we say, because we have time to get Beck and Bobo and all of the new pieces in place before the real tests. No need to rush back injured players who just might be able to go. Sounds good in theory.

It’s another thing to see that theory play out in practice. There’s no denying that the game got off to a slow start. Georgia was outgained in the first quarter. But if these early games are about getting better, we saw a team, and especially an offense, get better throughout the game. The job now is to build on what was learned during this game, add back in some missing players, and avoid backsliding.


The last time we saw Georgia in action a finely-tuned offense sliced through a capable TCU defense, put up 38 first half points, and cruised to 65. It was quite jarring then to see the first play go for a loss and then watch two three-and-outs in the first three possessions. Had that much changed?

“Vanilla” is at once a descriptive and a useless term. It’s understood to mean sticking to a fairly base offense without using some of the wrinkles, personnel groups, or counters that might emerge in future games. But that simplification doesn’t say anything about execution. Vanilla ice cream can be rich, silky, and satisfying. You could also end up with a lumpy mess from a broken custard that ends up with freezer burn from improper storage. It’s the same stuff, poorly executed.

UT-Martin had an obvious and logical defensive game plan: test Carson Beck by overwhelming Georgia’s running game with superior numbers. There’s no reason we won’t see this strategy again – not necessarily because it worked but because Georgia’s offense is talented enough to force a defense to pick its poison. The Skyhawks made a reasonable choice to key on the run knowing that Georgia had a new quarterback with a new left tackle, a new (to them) coordinator, and starting tailbacks and receivers unavailable.

For a while the UT-Martin plan was effective. They outgained Georgia in the first quarter and kept the game within two scores until the end of the first half. Georgia began to use UT-Martin’s aggressiveness and numbers against them in the second half. Play action froze the seven or eight in the box, opening up lots of space behind them. Beck didn’t hit the one deep shot he took to Arian Smith, but intermediate passes to Dillon Bell, C.J. Smith, and Mekhi Mews showed how this offense might best attack a defense that has to bring extra numbers against the run.

We saw why Beck was the starter. He generally made good decisions, didn’t turn the ball over, and showed that he could make a range of throws. At times he didn’t seem to be on the same page with his receivers. There were some missed opportunities for bigger plays and maybe even touchdowns especially with Arian Smith and Dominic Lovett. Those issues can be worked on. The basics of decision-making and his passing toolkit seem to be there, and you can build on that.

The frustrating thing was figuring out what the offense was trying to accomplish as if this were a typical SEC or P5 game. It didn’t take long for fans to return to their Richt-era grumbling about Mike Bobo, and the sequence at the end of the half didn’t help. Georgia didn’t seem to be looking to attack a specific pressure point. If the offense simply wanted to react to what UT-Martin showed on defense, we’d have seen a pass-heavy approach that put up more points and yards. Instead we got a look at several reserve tailbacks, asked Beck to make a variety of throws, and spread the ball around to 11 different receivers. The coaches got film on a wide variety of formations, personnel groups, and plays.

Again, though, a vanilla game plan can be executed well or poorly. Run blocking wasn’t great, and the backs have to be better at getting through crowded interior space. With a banged-up Milton as the only back with experience and UT-Martin attacking the run, this wasn’t going to be an impose-your-will kind of game. Pass blocking was much better – Beck was rarely pressured and had all day on the play-action passes that opened the game up in the third quarter. Georgia was only 5-12 on third downs, and Beck missed some open receivers on a couple of key third downs. The objectives of the offense might become more coherent as we get further down the schedule, but the basics apply regardless of the simplicity of the game plan.


UT-Martin gained only 262 yards, 116 of which came against the reserves after Georgia led 31-0 late in the third quarter. It’s tempting to glance at the numbers and conclude that the defense was dominant. Hey – it was a near shutout, they gained fewer than 150 yards until garbage time, and Georgia rotated its personnel at a dizzying rate.

The Skyhawk offense used a heavy dose of read option in the backfield that either resulted in a run or set up a quick play-action pass. This approach had a few consequences. First, the quick releases neutralized Georgia’s pass rush. It’s a familiar tactic we’ve seen plenty of times. Georgia wasn’t showing much more than a few stunts along the defensive front to begin with, and it’s not surprising there was only a single sack. Plays developing to the outside also put Georgia’s inside linebackers more into horizontal pursuit rather than an upfield attack. Dumas-Johnson and C.J. Allen saw the bulk of the action at ILB and recorded a total of four tackles. That’s not a slight on their play; it’s just the nature of the offense they were up against. Both Dumas-Johnson and Mondon showed tremendous speed to stop outside runs just short of the sticks on a couple of third downs.

The lion’s share of tackles came from the safeties and star. Malaki Starks, Tykee Smith, and Javon Bullard were quick in support and cut off gains on the quick passes and runs to the outside. Georgia’s athleticism, especially from the safety position, was overwhelming in this game. That advantage helped to cover up some mistakes that will have to be worked on before they see tougher competition. It was common early in the game to see a missed tackle cleaned up by someone from the secondary before it became a big play. The UT-Martin read option also tested Georgia’s edge containment, and the results weren’t great. Again, it was often up to the defensive backs to limit the damage.

The secondary could afford to be aggressive in support because UT-Martin didn’t present much of a downfield passing threat. They passed for only 128 yards – under 4 yards per attempt. It helped that some of their longer passes were incomplete; they did manage to get someone open a few times but couldn’t connect. Their quick swing passes, receiver screens, and play-action rollouts were snuffed out without many breaking out for long gains. Georgia is fortunate to have a dynamic tandem at safety like Bullard and Starks, and Tykee Smith is a veteran at star who understands where to be. Bigger tests will come when opponents are able to stretch the secondary and require the first two levels of Georgia’s defense to be more sound.

The only early UT-Martin scoring threat came late in the first quarter when quarterback Kinkead Dent kept the ball and ran 26 yards inside the Georgia 40. The drive stalled there – it was an interesting early decision to have the quarterback quick-kick on fourth down rather than gamble to extend a rare scoring opportunity inside Georgia territory. At that point Georgia led just 7-0. The kick was executed well and pinned Georgia inside their own 10, but the Dawgs were able to punch it out and flip the field to set up their second score. UT-Martin never had a better chance to turn the impatience of the Georgia crowd into genuine concern.

Extra Points

  • The playcalling in the final seconds of the first half has been beat to death, but an earlier sequence from the two-minute drive deserves a closer look. Georgia had the ball at midfield with 90 seconds remaining and one timeout in hand. Beck scrambled for 6 yards. After about 15-20 seconds, he dumped off a short pass to Cash Jones for two yards. Georgia had to burn its final timeout. Third down was another Beck scramble that eked out two yards; just enough to move the chains. Those three plays consumed about a minute off the clock, and Georgia was only at the UT-M 40 with just over 30 seconds on the clock and no timeouts left. In that context we were fortunate that Georgia even got points out of the drive. During the final timeout Smart was visibly livid about using the final timeout.
  • Oscar Delp’s touchdown reception wasn’t easy. He had to turn back inside to catch an underthrown ball and then keep his balance while spinning back around to get to the endzone. It was the kind of body control we’ve seen many times from Bowers. Bonus – it was a wheel route!
  • Delp had a shakier moment earlier in the game. He whiffed on a block on Bowers’ rushing touchdown delaying Bowers from turning the ball upfield. Bowers was capable enough to score anyway, and Delp responded with some much better blocking later on. The loss of Darnell Washington was most felt on the edge in the running game. It’s unfair to put that on Delp, but he’s one of the main players Georgia hopes to fill some of that role. Perimeter blocking is essential to what Georgia wants to do on offense.
  • Bowers really is a cheat code. His first reception broke four tackles, earned a personal foul penalty, and set up Georgia’s first score. After watching the offense struggle on their first possession, seeing Bowers do his thing calmed the nerves a little.
  • Due to injuries newcomers Andrew Paul and Roderick Robinson saw quite a bit of time at tailback, and Cash Jones saw his role expand far beyond garbage time. Jones had some nice catches out of the backfield. Robinson earned over 4 yards per carry and had a nice third down gain on a quick toss. He doesn’t have breakaway speed but can be effective off the bench once Edwards returns to the lineup. Paul wasn’t able to do much, but he is still working back from a serious knee injury. Just having him available for this game was a good sign, and he’ll continue to improve.
  • Aaron Murray was correct about Lovett’s dropped pass in the endzone. Georgia’s receivers need to show that they can fight through contact and come up with the ball. We saw Arian Smith jostled a few times on incomplete passes. Could a flag have been thrown? Sure. But you’re not always going to get the call, and you have to make the play. We know what Smith can do in the open field where his speed dominates. In this game though we saw Smith asked to make more contested catches that tested a different skillset. If he’s going to play a larger role on the offense, it can’t be all about the deep ball.
  • Georgia’s set at punter, but how many teams would like UT-Martin punter Aidan Laros on their roster? He was consistently excellent all game and punted for a 50.3 average.
  • Beck isn’t going to rip off a run like Bennett had against Auburn last season. But his touchdown run was important. It was decisive and not tentative. His change of direction was under control and not clumsy. It’s something defenses will see on film and at least have to respect.
  • We didn’t get a chance to see much of Georgia’s pass rush in this game. The passing down sub package with Jordan Hall, Mykel Williams, Jalon Walker, and Darris Smith got Georgia’s lone sack but is still young and raw. Without a dominant inside presence like Jalen Carter or Jordan Davis some of these younger outside pass rushers will have to play a larger role in pressure on passing downs.
  • Given the opponent the crowd was outstanding. They were ready to go, loud, and engaged into the fourth quarter. If Kirby Smart was hoping for the team to feed off the crowd’s energy, it didn’t happen. You got a sense that the crowd was expecting the early knockout blow and looking for a reason to celebrate, but that moment didn’t come until the third quarter.

Post Heading into 2023 on top

Friday September 1, 2023

We last left the Georgia football team celebrating a record-breaking victory over TCU for a second straight national title. It’s been an eventful offseason: it began with unthinkable tragedy which veered into scandal. There was celebration as another large group of Bulldogs headed for the NFL. There was transition and reunion as revered offensive coordinator Todd Monken left for the NFL and Mike Bobo began his second stint in the role. We’ve seen transfers out and transfers in. As we reset for another season and another title defense, this is what I’m thinking about.

1. Coming to terms with the offseason. In January the Bulldog program went from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows in the span of a few hours. A day that began with a second straight national championship fête ended with the tragic death of two members of the program. The incident opened the door to investigate everything from the program’s recruiting operation to its off-field behavior, and the fallout made its way in the NFL Draft. Each subsequent ticket or arrest added to the narrative (excessive or not) of a reckless culture.

Things have been relatively quiet as the players returned for preseason camp, and it might be tempting to view the upcoming season as an opportunity to move on. It’s not that simple. To begin with, there won’t be a #77 on the field each Saturday. The wider college football audience will be turning back to the sport for the first time since January, and we can expect studio shows and national broadcasts to mention the offseason in their coverage of the two-time champions. There are still people dealing with the human toll of the fatal crash, and the legal aftermath won’t be so tidy.

2. A different kind of title defense. A year ago Georgia, though the defending national champions, began the season ranked third. The title was a breakthrough moment that erased 40 years of frustration and established Georgia as an elite program, but they weren’t the odds-on favorite to repeat. It wasn’t necessarily a slight – few teams repeat, and Georgia’s historic 2022 draft results left a lot of personnel questions. The Dawgs were still a popular playoff pick and expected to be in the mix. It’s risible to think of the #3 team as having something to prove, but we all know how this works. Even if the uphill climb from #3 to #1 doesn’t do it for you, there were still some significant accomplishments that had eluded the 2021 team, chief among them an undefeated record and the SEC title.

The larger theme in the summer of 2022 wasn’t about repeating; it was Kirby Smart’s emphasis on continuity. “We didn’t build this program on hoping for one-year wonders,” he explained. “We built a program to be sustained.” I don’t mean to say that Georgia didn’t have a target on them last year; the whole “hunter vs. hunted” thing also came about in the summer of 2022. Though the repeat came into focus as the season unfolded the more immediate goal was proving that 2021 wasn’t a one-time flash in the pan. Georgia hadn’t even made the playoff in consecutive seasons and hadn’t won the SEC since 2017. There were new objectives on the way to a repeat.

Again Georgia opens the season as the defending national champion. The NFL Draft promoted another large group of contributors and leaders to the professional ranks. But a successful title defense seems to have done the trick as far as national perception. The Bulldogs begin 2023 in a different place than they did in 2022. They’re the consensus #1 team. They’re also defending an SEC championship and are expected to hold on to that crown. Now that we’ve seen a program replace 15 draft picks and still win a title, there’s a trust that this year’s questions can be similarly resolved.

We’ve seemed to jump right to the three-peat. Kirby Smart is right to be more concerned about complacency, and the “better never rests” motto of continuous improvement is consistent with the approach he’s used since 2016. But the three-peat has been front and center since SEC Media Days, and it seems to color every discussion about this year’s team. Yes, that might have something to do with the perception of this year’s schedule and the implication that Georgia will walk unchallenged into the postseason. Confidence is high, and so are expectations.

Right or wrong, the quest for the three-peat will hang over everything Georgia does this year. High expectations are nothing new at Georgia, but an attitude approaching title-or-bust isn’t the norm. Georgia has earned this status. I asked this time last year, “Are you able to smell the roses, or do you find the familiar nerves and worry creeping back in with the start of another season?” That still applies – I hope we’re all able to relish in this era of Georgia football. The “nerves and worry” though have transitioned from the old doom-and-gloom to a sense of foreboding that it might end. A title is always the team’s goal, but for us it shouldn’t become Gollum’s obsession with the ring. Remember – “We built a program to be sustained.”

3. What will Bobo 2.0 look like? It’s safe to say that the days of the I-formation and fullbacks are gone, but what else has changed? Bobo himself has been on quite a journey since 2014. He’s been a head coach and returned to the SEC for a couple of unsuccessful stints as offensive coordinator. He’s had to adapt to different levels of competition and talent. He’ll have more talent to work with than he’s had in nearly a decade, and while his earlier Georgia offenses had superstars like Gurley, Chubb, Stafford, and Green, Georgia is recruiting at a different level now and the overall level of talent available to Bobo might be as good as he’s had it. But with all of that talent comes extraordinary expectations. The 2019 offense that was good enough to get Georgia to 11-1 and to the SECCG was scrapped when it was exposed as noncompetitive against elite teams.

Personnel changes alone will affect how Bobo schemes the offense. Darnell Washington was an offensive tackle with receiver skills. He was an extra lineman blocking on running plays and a matchup nightmare on pass plays. Georgia has talented tight ends beyond Brock Bowers, but Washington’s skill set was unique and afforded Todd Monken the ability to run very different plays and looks without changing personnel. Stetson Bennett’s mobility became a factor that separated him from other quarterbacks and helped him maintain the starting job as he developed. Georgia didn’t call a ton of designed runs for Bennett, but he was able to extend plays and do enough damage running the ball that defenses had to respect the danger. Carson Beck might be able to scramble long enough to progress through his receivers, but we’re not likely to see the crazy (and sometimes terrifying) escapes. Georgia has a deeper group of receivers now, and the addition of a dangerous slot like Dominic Lovett means that we might see a more traditional passing offense than the 12 personnel that featured both Bowers and Washington. Georgia will always emphasize a physical running game, but a dinged-up group of tailbacks will require some creativity.

4. How will Georgia manage and develop its roster? Georgia’s starters were on the field quite a bit last season. Close games against Tennessee, Kentucky, and Missouri were 60-minute affairs. Florida’s second-half comeback kept the Dawgs from emptying the bench. Mississippi State was close at the half. Even the dominant win over Auburn was just 21-3 into the fourth quarter. The upside was that individuals like Stetson Bennett and Brock Bowers were on the field long enough to build the stats that propelled them to national recognition. The downside? Carson Beck saw action in 7 games – fewer than half of Georgia’s 2022 contests.

With the understanding that a schedule rarely turns out as expected, Georgia should be double-digit favorites in most of its regular season games. Ideally that would mean ample opportunity to get the reserves in, build experience, and manage the starters for what could be another long 15-game season. At the same time, Carson Beck needs reps with his offense. South Carolina could be an early test, but there’s no question that the difficulty picks up in October and November as Georgia gets into conference play and gets away from Sanford Stadium. There’s a lot to iron out: Beck of course, the health and rotation at tailback, roles for a fleet of young defensive backs, the pass rush, and more. First things first: Georgia has to play itself into a position to have these choices.

5. Around the team

  • Should we worry about placekicking? Jack Podlesney wasn’t called on for many game-winners since the 2020 Peach Bowl, but we saw in December how big games can come down to special teams. Georgia’s options to replace Podlesney are Jared Zirkel, a redshirt junior who has waited in the wings for three years, and true freshman Peyton Woodring. The sum total of their experience is Zirkel connecting on a 21-yard field goal at South Carolina last year.
  • Will depth at tailback lead to position changes? Yes, we know Bowers can run the ball, but he’s much more valuable and versatile doing so as a tight end. Word that receiver Dillon Bell is getting a look is interesting – he has decent speed (around 4.53/40) and had many more rushes than receptions in high school.
  • Earnest Greene steps into some big shoes as a redshirt freshman. A new left tackle will be protecting a new quarterback. The rest of the starting offensive line is proven and experienced. Depth is a little more of a concern than it has been, and Georgia has been fortunate with injuries up front. A lot seems to be riding on Greene following in the footsteps of Broderick Jones and Andrew Thomas.
  • If Georgia does have a slightly different look to its offense this year, Dominic Lovett could be the reason why. Darnell Washington’s size was a tough matchup for any pass defense, but a proven slot receiver like Lovett presents a different kind of matchup problem. Rosemy-Jacksaint, McConkey, and Lovett have years of experience and a wide range of skills between them, and then you’re able to bring in players like Arian Smith. Meanwhile Brock Bowers has to be accounted for. There’s a reason why people are excited about the Georgia passing game.
  • With dominant interior defensive linemen like Jordan Davis and Jalen Carter, we’re used to seeing pressure come from the inside. Georgia’s returning defensive linemen are experienced and disruptive in their own right. Without a clear superstar among them, will we see Georgia’s edge players take on a larger role? Chaz Chambliss was thrown into the deep end after Nolan Smith’s injury and eventually held his own. Mykel Williams emerged as a future star late last season. Marvin Jones, Jr. and Jalon Walker likewise began to stand out. Of the Georgia players left off the preseason All-SEC teams, Williams might be a name you’re likely to see on the postseason lists.
  • I was pleased to see Carson Beck do enough to earn the start early in camp and prevent any kind of nonsense drama lingering into the season.
  • The order behind Beck is less clear; I expect we’ll see both backups early in the season and get a sense of how the coaches rate them. Again, you’re balancing the need to get Carson Beck the reps to win big games later in the year with the need to develop solid experience behind him given the nontrivial chance you’ll need that experience.
  • What injuries are we keeping an eye on? Smael Mondon is an important piece in the middle of the defense, but Georgia is deep at linebacker and someone like Xavian Sorey could step in. Kamari Lassiter’s foot injury doesn’t seem to be a long-term problem but could keep him out for a few weeks. Lawson Luckie had a strong offseason, but it might be October before we see the freshman tight end. The availability of Kendall Milton and Andrew Paul at tailback could turn a thin position into a strength. Paul is returning from a serious knee injury, and Milton’s hamstrings seem to be a chronic problem. Will Ladd McConkey’s nagging back issues affect his availability at some point in the season?
  • I’m glad Arian Smith is no longer among the injured. His explosiveness singlehandedly adds a whole other layer to Georgia’s passing attack.
  • Kenny McIntosh quickly addressed my concern last year about replacing James Cook’s all-around skill. I should have known better given that Cook and McIntosh had similar receiving stats in 2021. That torch will have to be passed again, and the heir isn’t quite so obvious this year. Daijun Edwards lead returning tailbacks with 101 yards last season, but a healthy Paul could also get a look on passing plays.
  • Three of four secondary positions seem locked in, but we should see a good mix of combinations in the defensive backfield. Daylen Everette and Julian Humphrey could battle it out to replace Kelee Ringo, but Nyland Green or true freshman AJ Harris will get a look if Lassiter is sidelined for a couple of games. Veteran Tykee Smith is strong enough at Star that Javon Bullard was able to move to safety, and true freshman Joenel Aguero could be the future at that position. Bullard and Malaki Starks give Georgia its best safety duo in some time – perhaps even better than LeCounte and Reed.

6. Miscellany. Will Georgia break any records this year? Yes, there’s the three-peat (check out Seth Emerson’s trek to Minnesota that explores that history.) There’s also a little history to be made at Sanford Stadium: winning all seven home games would establish the program’s longest home winning streak. Mike Bobo returns as offensive coordinator, and his last season heading up the Bulldog offense set the program’s record for points per game (41.3 PPG in 2014.) Will he be able to top that?

Post Georgia’s 87 for 2023

Friday September 1, 2023

Georgia opens its 2023 season this week with a full roster. There’s not much new to say about it because by now the pattern is familiar. The roster skews young, and those young players will be counted on to replace those who have graduated or left early for the NFL. Georgia continues to recruit at an elite level, and those newcomers understand that expectations and opportunities begin right away. Eighteen true freshmen enrolled in time to go through spring practice, and nine of them were here to experience the 2022 playoff preparations.

Numbers-wise, the 2023 roster is nearly a mirror image of the 2022 roster. Once again there are only nine seniors. As in 2022 60 of the 87 have at least three years’ eligibility remaining. The roster is balanced with 42 scholarship players on offense and defense. Within the offense, Georgia has traded two tight end spots for wide receivers, and there is one fewer offensive lineman and quarterback in 2023. The biggest gains have come in the secondary. A strong recruiting class has increased the defensive backfield from 14 to 16 scholarship players (not to mention the return of injured walk-on standout Dan Jackson.)

With the exception of projected starting LT Earnest Greene Georgia’s offensive starters should be juniors or seniors. Mike Bobo will have an experienced and proven group familiar with the offense. The experience of the defensive starters could be a bit more varied. There are veterans along the defensive line and at inside linebacker, but Georgia’s edge pressure could largely come from guys with only a year or two in the system as the Bulldogs have replenished their talent at the position.

(Players are listed by class. Possible Day-One starters in a base formation are in bold – just a best guess. [R] indicates a player who has redshirted. A star(*) indicates an early enrollee.)

QB (3) Brock Vandagriff [R]
Gunner Stockton
Carson Beck [R]
RB (5) Andrew Paul [R]
Roderick Robinson II *
Branson Robinson Daijun Edwards
Kendall Milton
TE (4) Lawson Luckie *
Pearce Spurlin *
Oscar Delp Brock Bowers
WR (13) Anthony Evans III *
Tyler Williams *
Yazeed Haynes *
Chandler Smith
De’Nylon Morrissette
Dillon Bell
Cole Speer
Ladd McConkey [R]
Arian Smith [R]
Jackson Meeks
Rara Thomas
Dominic Lovett
Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint
OL (17) Jamal Meriweather
Monroe Freeling *
Kelton Smith
Joshua Miller *
Johnathen Hughley
Aliou Bah [R]
Earnest Greene [R]
Drew Bobo [R]
Dylan Fairchild [R]
Micah Morris [R]
Jared Wilson [R]
Amarius Mims
Austin Blaske [R]
Chad Lindberg [R]
Tate Ratledge [R]
Sedrick Van Pran [R]
Xavier Truss [R]
DL (11) Jordan Hall *
Jamaal Jarrett *
C.J. Madden [R]
Christen Miller [R]
Tyrion Ingram-Dawkins [R]
Jonathan Jefferson [R]
Mykel Williams

Warren Brinson
Nazir Stackhouse
Zion Logue [R]
Tramel Walthour
LB (15) Troy Bowles
Raylen Wilson *
CJ Allen *
Samuel M’Pemba *
Gabe Harris *
Damon Wilson *
EJ Lightsey [R]
Xavian Sorey [R]
Marvin Jones, Jr.
Darris Smith
Jalon Walker
C.J. Washington
Chaz Chambliss
Jamon Dumas-Johnson
Smael Mondon
DB (16) Kryon Jones
Daniel Harris
Chris Peal
Joenel Aguero *
AJ Harris *
Justyn Rhett *
Julian Humphrey [R]
Nyland Green [R]
Malaki Starks
Daylen Everette
Marcus Washington
JaCorey Thomas
Javon Bullard
David Daniel-Sisavanh
Kamari Lassiter
Tykee Smith
SPEC (3) Peyton Woodring Brett Thorson Jared Zirkel [R]
87 33 26 19 9